“Summer days, summer nights are gone. I know a place where there’s still somethin’ going on.” – Bob Dylan

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)     ★★★★ 1/2

Directed by Wes Anderson (Focus Features)

File:Moonrise Kingdom FilmPoster.jpegTake a deep breath kids, Wes Anderson hasn’t gotten any less quirky. But for non-converts of the comedic auteur’s eccentric, pastel-colored glimpses of witty genius, it would likely mean nothing to say that his latest endeavor is a stylistically identical companion piece to Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited, and his Roald Dahl-adapted animated feature, Fantastic Mr. Fox. Yes, Wes Anderson has a grandly singular style, yet like the films of Quentin Tarantino, his consistency in utilizing that style becomes original (and radically different from those of other filmmakers) to the point where it reaches predictability. So why, provided that we don’t dismiss this comparison to Tarantino, do each of these directors’ films continue to be excellent?

Moonrise Kingdom looks and feels like pristine Wes Anderson, but for a film about misfit children, it is also remarkably mature, and as if it needed to be said, both hilarious and touching. Throughout his career, Anderson has borrowed the tone and themes from such great directors as Mike Nichols and Hal Ashby, while adding his own “storybook” visualizations, and remarkable skill behind the camera (some camera movements, he has claimed, have been directly inspired by Stanley Kubrick). In addition, Anderson has continued to make movies like few have, maintaining his style and continuing to work with a close-knit group of companions, including best friend and frequent co-writer Owen Wilson. Although Wilson happens to be absent here, most of the cast and crew normally utilized by Anderson remains in Moonrise Kingdom, written by Wilson and Eleanor/Francis Ford offspring, Roman Coppola.

In the summer of 1965, a twelve-year-old boy named Sam (Jared Gilman) flees his “Khaki Scout” camp to run away with the girl he loves, Suzy (Kara Hayward). The young couple happens to live on one of many fictional islands off the coast of New England, and upon their mutual disappearance, the principle characters of their town join together (for lack of a better phrase) and search for them in the luscious wilderness. These children have faced many emotional situations that youth should never have to experience, albeit ones that many do. They come together for this very reason, and quench their disappointment in society with the freedom and hope of young love, that which is best experienced under the moonlit sky of a summer night. Together, they reign. Although they may not for very much longer.

Looking for Sam and Suzy are Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), the town’s head police honcho, Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton), Sam’s straightedge but caring Khaki Scout leader, Billy Murray and Francis McDormand as Suzi’s parents, and Tilda Swinton, as “Social Services” in the flesh. As if we didn’t have enough star power, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel, and Bob Balaban also make charming appearances. The fact is that these oddball characters have become so enraptured within their own lives, that they have forgotten to empathize with these precious children, who without their help, may one day become as sad as they may sometimes feel. But as the plot thickens, understanding does occur, and unity, an ever-present theme in the Anderson universe, binds those who couldn’t be more different.

Moonrise Kingdom may be the only film in recent memory that I could describe as having a perfect cast, although they are aided by the fact that these are outstanding characters, even for an Anderson film. Sam is resourceful and mature, outcast amongst his peers, but who amongst his hardships, remains cute, innocent, and undyingly friendly to the girl who shares his feelings. Suzy, meanwhile, is fed-up with her parental situation, and when her developing emotions are not understood by any key figures in her life, finds faith within one who feels quite the same way, and who can be seen fully without binoculars. And although many may feel differently, she is a child equally as sweet.

Meanwhile, Edward Norton’s Scout Master is surely one of the most compelling adult characters, exerting control over his Scouts with satiric hilarity, yet breaking down like a loving, concerned father figure as things begin to go wrong. These are all terrific performances, each exceptional in their own way, and all allowing us to thoroughly like each character’s presence onscreen. We simply enjoy spending time with these people. And not enough can be said about Anderson’s selection of child actors, not only with the fantastic duo of Gilman and Hayward, but also including Sam’s fellow Khaki Scouts, each with a distinct personality of their own.

The film simply looks gorgeous, the locations aplenty with eye-popping color and beauty, accompanied by architecture that along with the islands’ natural locations, appears as though it was justfully taken from an illustrated children’s book. This is the generic locale of Wes Anderson’s cinematic world, and what a wonderful place it is. This is pure imagination, and the 43-year-old sure knows how to maneuver the camera within it.

Consider the film’s opening sequence, in which we wind around the home of Suzy. Fantastic Mr. Fox, which might be my personal favorite of Anderson’s, was very much a good experience for the director; his tracking shots now allow what is in the frame to be portrayed with surrealism equal to his animated film. He moves the camera as if he has infinite space to work with, placing the actors far enough away that he appears to be capturing the occurrences within a dollhouse. In doing so, he fully creates a fantastical, onscreen world. Although it may seem quite different than our own, in addition to being inhabited by characters who are fully eccentric, the feelings Anderson addresses feel remarkably real, and have only become more effective in his growth as a filmmaker.

Moonrise Kingdom is a consistently funny enterprise, while also reminding us of a time when we were young, and had the will to do what we wanted, or even thought we had to do. Somewhere along the line, that strength, however innocent, disappears. But children are able to remind us, even encourage us. If they can hold onto their love, maybe they won’t end up as hopeless as some of us. In The Graduate, one of Anderson’s favorite films (and possibly the greatest comedy ever made), Benjamin Braddock simply wanted to be nothing like his parents. He wanted a future not limited by expectations or impositions. He wanted to be something special.

Moonrise Kingdom offers something of that same taste, yet it incorporates adults into the picture, as if with a grand cooperative of generations, we could figure this whole “life” thing out together. This is true comedy – it earns laughs, provides optimism, and hurts ever so gently. In addition, we have a romance so joyous, nearly to the caliber of Harold and Maude. Although Wes Anderson is never likely to depart from the style he commenced over 15 years ago, he continues to build a superb body of work, one arguably matching that of his cinematic idols. He has drawn generations of cinema together; hell, he may even be the Stanley Kubrick of comedy. Well, not quite … but it’s a thought.

CKEP’S VERDICT – 4.5/5

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